Years ago every little town had a store that sold fishing equipment — and gas, groceries, hardware, and clothes. The owner was usually behind the counter and he fished when he could. That meant he knew what tackle was working and kept up with the newest innovations as well as where the fish were biting. He could advise you on what you needed and where to use it to catch fish. These kinds of stores still exist but are hard to find today.
As discount stores opened up many of the small tackle stores went out of business. The big chains could undersell them on any of the items they carried, so mom-and-pop type stores closed down. They can be hard to find now.
What You Will Find in Mom-and-Pop Stores
Walking into a mom-and-pop tackle store is often like walking into a time warp. Many of them are in old buildings away from the main part of town and a lot of them look like they haven't changed in a very long time. The cash register might really be a cash register, not a modern electronic machine, and you can bet items will be rung up by hand, not scanned in. And they smell like fishing, with the distinct odor of live bait, old wood, and musty undisturbed shelves.
It's easy to get distracted and talk for a long time about fishing in a store like this. Be careful that you don't lose track of time and forget what you came for.
The proprietor, who has probably owned the store for many years, may have as much character as the store and knows every item in it. Family members are often part of the management, helping out behind the counter. And don't be surprised to see several old men sitting or standing around talking about past fishing trips.
You will see counters covered with lures lined up in all the colors of the rainbow. A wall rack will usually hold bag after bag of plastic worms, arranged by manufacturer. There will probably be shelves of fishing clothes in the back, and rods will stick up from their racks on one side of the store. Near the back you'll hear the hum of the aerator in the minnow tank and crickets will chirp at you from their box.
A refrigerator will double as a earthworm cooler and a place for cold drinks. Behind the counter you'll see the expensive items including reels and knives. A whole section will be devoted to hooks, sinkers, and corks. Most of them will be loose in boxes rather than prepackaged, and you can scoop up the exact number you want. And there is likely to be a stack of helpful brochures from the state Department of Natural Resources.
The Pros of Mom-and-Pop Stores
When you visit them you'll most often be dealing with the owner, a person knowledgeable about fishing and what is good locally. The store will carry the items most often used in that area and the bait and tackle offered is what works. And you may well find some local fishermen hanging around who are willing to give you helpful information.
A variety of locally popular live bait is almost always a staple at this type of store. The owner can tell you how to keep it alive and fresh, the correct way to put it on the hook, and even how deep it should be fished. Different kinds of containers for bait will be available, from minnow buckets to cricket boxes, so you can carry them with you.
You might be able to find a treasure in one of these stores, too. Although you're unlikely to find a valuable lure (collectors have probably already checked it out), you may be able to find a selection of old plugs and other items no longer made. This kind of store is a good place to find your favorite discontinued reel, plug, or plastic worm, and stock up on it one last time.
Mom-and-pop store owners often can special order a hard-to-find item. They're usually willing to take the time to find and order something for you, so if you can't find what you want, ask if they can order it.
The owner of a small store will probably help you match up a rod and reel and even walk outside and make a few casts with a practice plug. The owner can show you how to balance a rod and reel and what pound test line to put on it. If you're real lucky the owner might even ask you to go fishing with him or her to try out your new equipment. This is much more likely to happen if you're a regular customer and you get to know the owner and the other people who work there.
Although parking is usually limited at these stores, it's close to the store and very convenient. You won't have to walk long distances with your purchase and these stores usually aren't crowded, making access much easier and less hectic that at bigger stores.
The Cons of Mom-and-Pop Stores
Small stores charge higher prices than the bigger stores. Since they usually order small numbers at one time, their cost is higher and they have to pass it on to you. Their markup probably isn't high enough to be able to bargain with you or put things on sale. Although these stores carry what's popular locally, it is unlikely they carry items you'll need on a trip out of the area. And they're less likely to carry really expensive items like high-quality reels, although they'd certainly order them for you. But that means you'll have to wait instead of walking out of the store with what you want.
You're likely to pay list price on most items at mom-and-pop stores, but you can get personal assistance and good local information that helps offset the higher prices. And if you special order an item you may even have to pay shipping on it, so make sure you know the total price before you order.